Bills offensive woes paint murky picture of Dennison’s future
ORCHARD PARK – If you told Bills fans before Sunday’s meeting with the Patriots that Tom Brady would finish the game without throwing a single touchdown but one interception, many would have assumed the Bills would have pulled the unthinkable and beaten the New England Patriots.
But the Patriots didn’t need Brady’s magic to down the Bills 23-3 and improve to 10-2 on the season. It was their running backs who did the heavy lifting, with Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James White combining for 188 of their 191 rushing yards. It was just the latest no-show by a Bills run defense that has yielded 884 yards on the ground over their last five games.
And yet the run defense isn’t even the Bills’ biggest problem.
Over their last five games, the Bills offense is averaging just 14.8 points per game. For all intents and purposes, only about 28 of their 74 points during that span have come during meaningful football or non-garbage time. And in a game where the defense did its best to keep Buffalo within striking distance until late in the third quarter, the offense couldn’t have flopped any harder.
I’ll give offensive coordinator Rick Dennison some credit. He put together a well-designed script of plays for the Bills’ opening drive. The offense methodically moved the ball 66 yards, all the way to the New England one-yard line, before Tyrod Taylor threw away a great scoring opportunity. That ultimately paved the way for yet another scoreless first quarter – their seventh this season.
Dennison also showed an ability to think outside the box by mixing in the wildcat, which featured special teams guru Joe Webb playing quarterback. That creativity nearly led to an easy passing touchdown if Webb hadn’t overthrown running back Travaris Cadet streaking down the middle of the field late in the second quarter. Still, the drive ended with a field goal and cut New England’s lead in half, 6-3. A small victory that was followed by another red zone stop by the defense and a field goal for the Patriots, which left the Bills trailing by a single possession heading into the half.
And that’s about where the credit stops for Dennison. While the defense was busy holding the NFL’s top scoring offense to a season-low nine points in the first half, the offense could muster up all of three points in response.
“We knew coming in how good their offense was,” safety Micah Hyde said after the game. “They have a three-headed monster in the backfield along with the weapons on the outside. I feel like we did a pretty good job in the first half, we gave up big plays but once they got in the red zone they kicked field goals.
“It kind of wears on you as a defense. You wanna get out there and get off the field, force some takeaways and we weren’t able to do that.”
It was reminiscent of the Bills’ Week Two loss to Carolina, where the defense held the Panthers to nine points for the game and watched their offense kick a single field goal.
Dennison’s group needed to do better by their defense and score more points when the Patriots were settling for field goals in the first half. Just like they needed to build a bigger lead than 10-0 last week while the Chiefs went three-and-out on each of their first five drives of the game.
It’s the same theme repeating itself each week. It’s the same stale play calling, which of course reemerged in the second half once the Patriots made adjustments. Dennison has been at his worst when he’s forced to go off-script or essentially when the team’s scripted plays to start the game have been exhausted. He practically robbed his own team of points early in the fourth quarter, by calling for a fade pass to Zay Jones in the corner of the end zone on fourth-and-one from the Patriots’ one. The aggressiveness was respectable, but the play call was pathetic, especially on a day where your rushing attack was averaging seven yards per carry.
As much as losing to the Patriots has become Groundhog Day, so has watching Buffalo’s inept offense wither away when they take the field each Sunday. There’s plenty of blame to pass around for that. We’ve learned that Tyrod Taylor probably isn’t the long-term answer at quarterback and he may have played his final snap in a Bills uniform whether his knee injury is serious or not. Even though I maintain that Taylor gives Buffalo the best chance to win this season, it’s not as if the offense has thrived under his command. We’ve seen Sean McDermott change things up once, what’s stopping him from doing it again, especially with their playoff hopes on the brink?
Still, inconsistent as Taylor has been, he hasn’t gotten much help from Dennison in terms of maximizing his skill set, which is likely what led to the quarterback change in the first place. This is also the offensive coordinator who stood in front of the media in Week 11 and said he was still trying to figure out what they do well offensively. To not know that more than halfway through the season is laughable and the biggest indictment on Dennison.
The Bills’ offensive woes can’t be solely attributed to Taylor’s deficiencies. The majority of the blame falls squarely on Dennison, whose job it is to know what his players do well and turn it into a functional offense. Buffalo’s offense barely has a pulse. Enough is enough.
Dennison’s fate at season’s end seems inevitable, and it’s probably for best.